Dolittle Review: Robert Downey Jr. Delivers a Delightful Family Adventure

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Dolittle is a delightful adventure that will have adults and children roaring with laughter. Robert Downey Jr. and his menagerie of CGI critters will put a smile on the sourest puss. The film took me completely by surprise. An underwhelming trailer had my expectations at a basement level. This was after extensive reshoots delayed the release several times. Dolittle seemed like a big-budget flop exiled to the barrens of January. It doesn’t matter what happened previously. The end product is what counts. Dolittle is a fun family film with quite a few memorable characters.

In Victorian England, the legendary Dr. Dolittle has become a recluse. A terrible tragedy locking his gift of talking to animals away from the world. In the woods near Dolittle‘s estate, young Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) is forced to go hunting by his mean uncle. Stubbins wounds a squirrel and is wracked with guilt for his cruel actions. He decides to take the dying animal to the one person who can save its life.

Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado), another youth in seek of Dolittle‘s talents, also arrives. The Queen (Jessie Buckley) is near death after falling mysteriously ill. Dr. Dolittle is her last hope of survival. At first Dolittle scoffs at helping either child. His trusted macaw, Polly (Emma Thompson), reminds him of the stakes. He would never let an injured animal suffer. And if the Queen dies, his treasured animal sanctuary would be repossessed. Dolittle is soon on a globetrotting mission to find a cure for the monarch. But evil forces in the royal court (Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent) and a very angry pirate (Antonio Banderas) threaten the mission. Dolittle will need to depend on Stubbins and his dear animal friends to save the day.

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When Dolittle interacts with his animal companions, he looks deranged to the human world. He barks like a dog, squawks, whistles, and chuffs while beating his chest. But the animals hear and respond like regular conversation. They are fantastic scene stealers. Every celebrity actor is matched perfectly to their animal counterpart. Polly gets the most screen time, but the supporting cast each takes a turn to shine. Rami Malek voices Chee-Chee, a gorilla terrified by everything. His girlish screams had me laughing non-stop. Then you have the summer loving polar bear, Yoshi (John Cena); who constantly mocks the uptight ostrich Plimpton (Kumail Nanjiani). There are loads more animals in the fray, but Kevin the Squirrel (Craig Robinson) was my favorite. He survives his gunshot wound to add ongoing, knockdown funny commentary.

Apart from Stubbins, Dolittle primarily converses with the CGI animals. Robert Downey Jr. conducts a symphony of visual effects humor. His reactions are flawless and engaging. A decade plus filming Marvel’s effects laden, comic juggernauts have honed his considerable acting talent even further. Dolittle works because you believe the protagonist’s abilities. Some scenes do look like a video game, but you’re never taken out of the fantasy. Robert Downey Jr. inhabits Dolittle fully. The strength of his performance allows the CGI elements to shine.

Dolittle‘s plot is simple, but effective. There’s never any doubt to the film’s outcome. The comedy and action bits along the way are the real draws. The animals are cute and endearing. I laughed consistently throughout. The reshoots definitely worked. Dolittle is a production of MRC and Roth Films with distribution by Universal Pictures.

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Julian Roman at Movieweb